Saturday 20 February 2010


“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” - Confucius

For Song Saturday today, I return to my childhood. I was listening to the radio this morning and they currently have a promotion where they invited listeners to remember the first piece that “hooked” them on classics. Ever since I remember, music was part of our household. Whether the radio, stereo, TV or people actually singing live, music there was. When we moved to Australia, I remember having to live in a country town for a little while. This was quite a big change for us, because we had lived in big cities up until then.

One day, the school organised an outing to the Town Hall, where a full symphony orchestra in one of its country tours was giving a concert. They played several pieces, but the very first one was the one that impressed my young mind the most. It was Rossini at his most exuberant, an overture full of drama and a wonderful showcase of the orchestra’s colours. The piece was the overture to his opera “La Gazza Ladra” (The Thieving Magpie). This is an opera of servant girl accused of stealing her mistress’s jewels, whereas in fact a magpie has purloined them. Just as the poor girl is going to hang for her crime, the real “thief” is discovered and all ends well.

The orchestra begins with a drum roll and a march, which is quickly followed by a glorious Rossini melody that is so juicy and rich, that it is as if you are biting into a ripe plum. There are beautiful solos for woodwinds, Rossini crescendos, excitement and drama. What a marvellous introduction to the classics for an impressionable 10-year-old!

Here is the New Philharmonia Orchestra, with Rossini’s “Thieving Magpie” overture:

Friday 19 February 2010


“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” - Andrew Carnegie

I wrote last Wednesday that I had visited Adelaide and that I had luncheon at the Adelaide Convention Centre, at the function I was attending. I was most impressed with the food and service and have since found out more about the executive chef behind this venue. But first, the menu of the luncheon, which was truly delicious:

Tassal Smoked Salmon with Spanish onions and freshly juiced lemon, beetroot relish and sourdough horseradish bread

Main Course
Prime fillet steak with Anna Potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus spears and baby caper cabernet sauce

Selection of bread rolls and pure creamery butter

Freshly brewed coffee, selection of teas and fine chocolates

Nepenthe Tryst Chardonnay Pinot Noir
Rymill ‘The Yearling’ Sauvignon Blanc
Shingleback Red Knot Cabernet Sauvignon

Coopers Pale Ale and Premium Light beers
Orange juice, mineral water and soft drinks.

The Adelaide Convention Centre is located in the Adelaide CBD at a prime location by the River Torrens and it has magnificent facilities for conventions, conferences, various events, as well as fine dining on a large scale. The executive chef of the Centre is Tze Khaw who with his staff can prepare 13,000 plates that will be served simultaneously through three courses in six dining rooms over a weekend. Truly impressive, even if one considers only the logistics of the exercise! Tze Khaw does not cook, he has ten qualified chefs and seven apprentices to take care of that, as well as tens of other staff in the kitchens and as many waiters to serve the food.

Efficiency and good organisation must underlie such operations, but helping out is the barrage of latest technology and amazing machinery that help the staff in their herculean tasks. For example huge basement freezers and refrigerators to store three tonne shipments of sirloin steak and 600 kg lots of prawns. A conveyor belt in the kitchen that assists eight staff to prepare 1,000 plates of dessert in six hours. Cold chocolate soufflés (made with 150 litres of sauce and 400 litres of cream!) are packed into custom built food trolleys that each carries 70 plates and they are wheeled to the refrigerators until they are served a few hours later. Digitally controlled banks of convection ovens can cook food in chambers that control the temperature to within 0.1˚C and can cook 250 kg batches of meat!

The good organisational skills of the establishment come to the fore when the guests are seated and they need be served. The food must be distributed quickly enough so that it doesn’t get cold and that the guests all eat at approximately the same time. In our function there were about a thousand people present and each course of our lunch was served within 15 minutes - no mean feat!

As I have already said, the food was superb. The salmon was as though it had been sliced that minute, the beetroot relish was exceedingly good (savoury and tart, not a trace of sweetness), while the sourdough horseradish bread interesting and light. Even more impressive was the main course. The steak was one of the most tender I have ever eaten, even though it was well done (just the way I like it!). The wines were very good and as I said, much was achieved over the lunch as well!

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday 17 February 2010


“We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.” - Carl Sagan

Technology is wonderful! It can make our life easier, keep us happier, better connected, make us better citizens, more environmentally efficient, better informed, etc, etc. Certainly it can do all of these things, but there is also a dark side to technology as technophobes will tell you. Technology can alienate us from human society, it can provide us with more efficient weapons, it can pollute our environment, it can provide us with the means to spy on people, it can invade our personal space, it can be used for fraud and crime, it can make every evil human activity 100% more effective.

As with any human invention where there is a good side and a bad side to it, the burgeoning of technology (especially the electronic kind!), can make our life heaven or hell. The nuclear age that was heralded by the splitting of the atom provided the means to make almost limitless energy for peaceful use, but it also created that most efficient of weapons, the nuclear bomb. Human nature, really isn’t it? Man the angel, man the devil, all rolled up into one. Who wins, angel or devil depends on each and everyone one of us, and how we control that struggle within us…

At work we recently had a very lively discussion about emails and the use and abuse of emails in the workplace. Out of interest, I counted the number of emails that I received today and it was 113. And today was a good day, usually I get closer to 150 daily. 90% of these emails are internal to our organisation and about 50% of them I should not be getting at all. I am copied in as a “FYI” recipient. Of those, about 25% I should be seeing and the rest I have to act on and a reply is required. Add to that the 50 or so personal emails I receive in my private/personal (non-work) email box (junk mail excluded!), I am talking about serious email overload!

Microsoft has conducted a study that has looked at this particular problem in workplaces. They have published that 36% of office workers’ time is spent on emails – opening, reading, trashing, replying. About 70 emails received per day is the average and represents a 21% increase from five years ago. The internet provider BigPond Australia has released figures that show 70 million emails pass through the Telstra network each day in Australia. The anti-virus firm Symantec reports that three billion emails are processed through its servers per day, worldwide. Many of these emails of course are junk and automated emails generated from systems – accounting, order programs, social networking sites, etc. Once again, Symantec data indicate that 90% of email messages processed in January 2009 were classed as spam (up from the 62% spam messages in January 2009, using the same criteria).

In our own workplace we are making a serious effort to reduce email traffic. We are seriously considering using alternatives. For example, walking down the corridor to talk to a colleague face-to-face. A radical suggestion! Often a string of emails that waste so much time could be avoided by having a short telephone conversation, which we are encouraging people to do. Several email exchanges involving many people (over a few days!) can be avoided by scheduling a meeting or a video conference where the matter can be resolved in less than an hour.

The bane of my life is that serious infraction of email etiquette, the indiscriminate use of the “reply to all” button! Not only does it waste a lot of people’s time, but it can also embroil colleagues in word battles, misunderstandings and involve inappropriate people in focused exchanges that should have remained more private. Many is the time that I have had to nurse colleagues’ bruised egos, preen ruffled feathers and provide first aid to battered sensitivities because of the “reply to all” email missive used inappropriately. On the other side of the coin, a recipient of a “cc” message can often ignore it (to his or her detriment). If a recipient receives such a message and the sender expects a response or an action, how easy is it to pass the electronic buck and trash the message, expecting someone else on that list to respond appropriately?

Emails: Heaven or hell? Up to us to use them or abuse them.

e-mail |ˈē ˌmāl| (also email) noun
Messages distributed by electronic means from one computer user to one or more recipients via a network: Reading e-mail has become the first task of the morning | [as adj. ] e-mail messages.
• The system of sending messages by such electronic means: A contract communicated by e-mail.
• (an e-mail) A message sent by e-mail: I got three e-mails from my mother today.
verb [ trans. ]
Send an e-mail to (someone): You can e-mail me at my normal address.
• send (a message) by e-mail: Employees can e-mail the results back.
e-mailer noun
ORIGIN late 20th century: Abbreviation of electronic mail.


“As we grew to love South Australia, we felt that we were in an expanding society, still feeling the bond to the motherland, but eager to develop a perfect society, in the land of our adoption.” – Catherine Helen Spence

I am in Adelaide for the day today as I had to attend a formal lunch in which the premier and several of his ministers. There were members of the City Council and representatives from industry present also. The function was at the Adelaide Convention Centre and very well attended with about a thousand guests. My boss and I sat at the table of the South Australian Department of Trade and Economic Development as guests of the HOD. It was a well organised function and it was unusual for such political/industry forums that it was extremely interesting. Mike Rann, the Premier spoke very well and unveiled his 30-year strategic plan for the future. He is a very good speaker and he spoke about several initiatives that will do much good for the State. There is a State election in about a month, so this was one of the pre-election activities, I am sure.

All of this afternoon I caught up with our staff at our Adelaide campus and signed off about 100 testamurs for the graduating students of the South Australian campus. The time quickly passed and then I had to go back to the airport for my commuters’ flight back to Melbourne.

For Poetry Wednesday today, a poem by Dame Edith Sitwell.  She was born September 7th, 1887, Scarborough, Yorkshire, England and died December 9th, 1964, London. She was a poet who first gained fame for her innovative stylistic artifices but who emerged during World War II as a poet of emotional depth and profoundly human concerns. She was equally famed for her formidable personality, Elizabethan dress, and eccentric opinions.

The Fan

LOVELY Semiramis
Closes her slanting eyes:
Dead is she long ago.
From her fan, sliding slow,
Parrot-bright fire's feathers,
Gilded as June weathers,
Plumes bright and shrill as grass
Twinkle down; as they pass
Through the green glooms in Hell
Fruits with a tuneful smell,
Grapes like an emerald rain,
Where the full moon has lain,
Greengages bright as grass,
Melons as cold as glass,
Piled on each gilded booth,
Feel their cheeks growing smooth.
Apes in plumed head-dresses
Whence the bright heat hisses,--
Nubian faces, sly
Pursing mouth, slanting eye,
Feel the Arabian
Winds floating from the fan.

Dame Edith Sitwell

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday!

Monday 15 February 2010


“On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.” - George Gordon Byron

Today is Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”, or “Pancake Tuesday”). In most Western churches this is the last day of the pre-Lenten non-fasting period.  It was a day during which all remaining eggs, milk, butter and cheese in the house had to be consumed, hence the custom of making pancakes. The name Shrove comes from the old word “shrive” which means to confess. On Shrove Tuesday, in the Middle Ages, people used to confess their sins so that they were forgiven before the season of Lent began. Mardi Gras was also the last opportunity for feasting and for having a good time, as these pleasures were forbidden during Lent - hence the Mardi Gras parades and the carnival fancy dress parties.

Lent is meant to be a time of abstinence, when people used to repent and fast, giving up dietary items that were forbidden in the diet. So Shrove Tuesday was the last chance to indulge oneself, and to use up the foods that weren’t allowed in Lent. Pancakes are eaten on this day because they contain fat, butter and eggs, which were forbidden during Lent. It is extremely rare nowadays for people to fast during Lent, and many young people in Western countries have no idea what “to fast” or “Lent” means.

Pancake races are still held in many places in England on this day. The object of the race is to get to finish first while flipping a pancake in a frying pan a certain number of times. The skill is not so much in running the race but in flipping and catching the pancake, which must be intact (and still in the pan!) when the winner finishes. The most famous pancake race takes place at Olney. According to tradition, in 1445 a woman of Olney heard the shriving bell while she was making pancakes and ran to the church in her apron, still clutching her frying pan. The Olney pancake race is now world famous. Competitors have to be local housewives and they must wear an apron and a hat or scarf. Each contestant has a frying pan containing a hot, cooking pancake. She must toss it three times during the race that starts at the market square at 11.55 am. The first woman to complete the winding 375-metre course (the record is 63 seconds set in 1967) and arrive at the church, serve her pancake to the bell ringer, and be kissed by him, is the winner. She also receives a prayer book from the vicar.

In Greece, Lent starts on “Clean Monday” (the Monday before Shrove Tuesday when Eastern and Western Easters coincide, as happens this year). In the Greek Orthodox faith, the period of Lenten fasting begins on “Clean Monday” and continues until midnight on Easter Saturday, a period of 48 days. The Greek term for Lent is Meghále Saracosté, meaning the “great 40th day”, fast being implied, and the “great” including the extra 8 days of fasting.  The Mikré Saracosté “lesser 40th day fast” of the Greek Orthodox Church is the one preceding Christmas and lasts 40 days.

The term “Clean Monday” not only refers to the “clean” Lenten food, but also refers to the Spring cleaning which was traditionally done on this day. Everything was taken out of the house, furniture dusted, floors mopped, walls were whitewashed, houses aired, and the rubbish taken out of the village and burnt.  This represented a purification of the house, readying it for the Lenten period ahead.  In Greece, Clean Monday is a time when children go out and fly kites, a practice known as koúlouma, which usually combines this kite-flying with a picnic in the countryside.  It is customary to eat a special unleavened bread on this day, called a laghána.  The baking of this special bread may be related to the Roman Feast of Ovens, the Fornacalia at around this time. During this feast, it was customary to eat wheaten flat cakes resembling the laghána. The Fornacalia  cakes may also be linked to the tradition of baking pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.
   The Great Apokriá is gone and o’er
   Masquerading, feasting, alas no more.
   Lent is here, Clean Monday dear -
   Eat your olives and great God fear!
Greek Folk Rhyme

The Great Apokriá is the Greek carnival, celebrated on the Sunday before Clean Monday. The city of Patras is renowned for its carnival. Several other cities also have great carnival traditions in Greece. The small town of Galaxeidi to the West of Athens holds a special “flour fight” on Clean Monday, which is anything but clean after tinted flour bombs are used to hold mock battles in its streets. The fighting gets pretty intensive if the protective gear that the revellers are wearing are anything to go by (see picture!).

Have a Good Lent!

Sunday 14 February 2010


“We used to root for the Indians against the cavalry, because we didn't think it was fair in the history books that when the cavalry won it was a great victory, and when the Indians won it was a massacre.” - Dick Gregory

Yesterday we got a lot done around the house and garden, so when it was time to sit down and watch a movie, we decided to watch a “golden oldie” that we hadn’t seen for years (no, make that decades!). It was the Victor Fleming 1939 grand old epic “Gone with the Wind”. This legendary film that won 8 Oscars and another 6 prizes, has dominated motion picture history for decades after it was made in the first half of the last century (doesn’t that make it sound even older!).

Epic describes the film not only in subject matter and production values, but also in duration. We watched the 238 minute version complete with Overture, Entr’acte and Exit music. The restored Blu Ray version is quite stunning in its colour cinematography and the film looks crisp and new, as though it has just left the cutting room. It is an old pot-boiler of a movie that pulls all the right punches and follows all the tried and true formulas. This explains its success, of course.

Given its melodramatic origin in Margaret Mitchell’s sprawling novel, the film follows the trials and tribulations of the love-life of spoilt rich girl/poor girl/rich girl Scarlett O’Hara quite well, while at the same time attempting to bring to life a few pages of American history. Romanticised it may be, but nevertheless, the essence of the times has been recreated quite well (with a 30s slant). The nostalgic ante-bellum grandeur and inequity is contrasted with the horror of the civil war and the last part of the film that deals with “America the Land of Opportunity” and the rebirth of the South from its ashes is a grand acknowledgement of American culture.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh make for a formidable pair and they both do a fine job of acting in this movie. Nevertheless, this is not a two-lead movie. Equally convincing are Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland as the other pair of lovers and the rest of the cast have been chosen with equal appropriateness. There is caricature and over-acting, surely, but remember this is a 1939 film! Criticisms have also been levelled at the film regarding its portrayal of race relations, however, in any social document – especially be it a newspaper article, a novel or a film – there will be points of view and personal prejudices that must be taken into account when one reviews it and interprets it.

The music of the film is perhaps another indicator of its age. Max Steiner’s melodramatic and saccharine sweet score that underpins most of the movie is punctuated by pieces of local colour (no pun intended), which nevertheless prove to be more effective. I mentioned previously the Overture, Entr’acte and Exit music, which is a great indicator of film-makers’ self-congratulatory pats on the back. If you remember, Ben Hur used a similar device, as did many other epics that Hollywood judged to be grand enough to have this type of treatment.

Considering when the film was made, its cinematic impact was immense and the influence it exerted on subsequent movies is quite considerable. And rightly so. This is Hollywood in its heyday, showcasing what can be done with talent and money. A film to watch and learn from, not only cinematically, but also socially, politically and allegorically.


“Love must be as much a light, as it is a flame.” - Henry David Thoreau

In ancient Greece there once lived a mortal princess named Psyche who had become so famous for her beauty that mere mortals were beginning to say that she was even more lovely than Aphrodite herself. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was jealous and angry because of this. She sent her son Eros, the god of passionate love, to shoot Psyche with one of his arrows, to make her fall in love with the most hideous monster he could find. But the Psyche’s beauty so enchanted him that he could not bring himself to carry out his mother’s command.

The oracle of Apollo at Delphi had warned Psyche’s father that she would never be the bride of an ordinary man, but rather would marry a being who flies through the night, like a terrible winged serpent, one whose power was so great that even Zeus, the king of the gods, could not withstand it. The king was told to take his daughter to a mountaintop and leave her there, so the wind could transport her to the abode of her husband.

The next morning, Psyche, her parents and two sisters made their way to the mountain. Tearfully they bade each other farewell, and then her family returned to the palace, leaving the frightened girl alone on the mountaintop. As soon as she was quite alone, Psyche felt herself lifted by a gentle breeze, which carried her far away to a beautiful palace built of marble and richly decorated with gold, silver, and precious gems. When she went inside, she found that an elaborate wedding feast had been prepared, but she saw no guests. Invisible servants began to wait on her, and in soft voices they assured her that she was mistress of the palace, and that everything in it was hers.

That night her new husband came to her, but the palace was so completely dark that she could not see him. Still, he was kind and gentle, and his words were loving and sweet. She soon fell in love with him. He promised that he would give her anything she wanted, but warned her that she must never try to see his face. If ever she should look upon his face, they would have to part, and she would then live in loneliness and misery. For many months Psyche was content to live with the husband she had come to love so dearly, but she never stopped missing her sisters. She began to plead with him to bring them to visit her. He warned her that they would cause trouble, but in the end he could not refuse his bride’s request.

The next day, when Psyche’s sisters went to the mountaintop, as they did every day, to weep over their lost sister, the wind lifted them and carried them to Psyche’s new home. When they were set down before the gorgeous palace, the sisters felt amazed at such wealth. They were even more astonished when their lost sister ran out of the palace to greet them. She explained that the palace belonged to her new husband, and now, of course, to her as well. Psyche's sisters could not help feeling jealous of Psyche’s good fortune. They began to pry and probe, and to ask questions about her husband. Although she did not want to admit that she had never seen her husband’s face, Psyche became confused and flustered under their relentless interrogation. In response to one question, she described him as having golden hair, as bright as the sun, but an hour later, she mentioned that his hair was as dark as night. These and other contradictory answers aroused her sisters’ suspicion. They pounced on her errors, crying out, “Why, you have never even seen him, have you?”

When she finally admitted the truth, her sisters reminded her of Apollo's prophecy. It didn't take long for them to persuade the confused girl that her husband must be a terrible monster who would kill her as soon as he tired of her. They concocted a plan. Handing her an oil lamp and a dagger, they told her to wait until he was asleep, and then to light the lamp and steal a look at him. If he was, as they assumed, a terrible monster, then she would have to take the dagger and kill him.

That night, Psyche took the dagger from beneath her pillow and approached her sleeping husband. She lit the lamp and gazed for the first time on her husband's face, the face of the god of love! Instead of obeying his mother’s command and making Psyche fall in love with a hideous monster, Eros had secretly taken her for his own bride. When she beheld the glory of Eros, Psyche was so startled that she allowed a drop of hot oil to land on his shoulder. Awakened by the drop of oil on his shoulder, the god said sadly, “Where there is no trust there can be no love.” Then he arose and left the palace.

Aphrodite soon learned that Eros had disobeyed her. She sought out his abandoned bride, determined to make her suffer. As soon as she found her, Aphrodite dumped a great pile of tiny seeds on the ground in front of the unhappy girl and ordered her to separate them and to finish the job by sundown!  Looking at the enormous pile of seeds, Psyche knew that the task was impossible. It would take a hundred years to sort and separate so many seeds. But a large colony of ants, beguiled by the girl’s beauty, decided to help her. Scurrying back and forth, they soon had the seeds sorted into separate piles. When Aphrodite returned and saw that the task had been completed, she became enraged and promised Psyche that her next task would be even harder.

She commanded Psyche to collect some wool from a herd of fierce man-eating sheep who lived in a thicket of thorn bushes near the river. Psyche knew it was certain death to approach the sheep, but as she drew near to the bushes where they lived, a voice told her to wait until evening, when the sheep would leave the thicket. Then she could collect the wool that had stuck to the thorns. Psyche did this, and once again Aphrodite was angry that Psyche had successfully completed a task that was meant to be impossible.

Aphrodite continued to set impossible tasks for Psyche, but somehow the girl kept managing to complete them. What neither Psyche nor Aphrodite realized was that Eros was still watching over Psyche, sending her help when she needed it.  Zeus was well aware of these events. Finally he decided that enough was enough. He decreed that Eros had proved his love for Psyche, and Psyche had proved her devotion, patience, and obedience. He said that since Eros had chosen as his bride a mortal, who could not reside with him on Mt. Olympus, there was only one course of action. Zeus would have to grant her immortality. Once Psyche had drunk the ambrosial nectar of the gods from the cup of immortality she ceased to be mortal. Aphrodite no longer felt jealous of her, for she had only resented the girl because she felt that mortals had no right to rival the gods. At last she bestowed her blessing on the union between her son and the beautiful princess who had become one of the immortals.

The painting above is by Orazio Lomi Gentilleschi (1563 - 1639) and illustrates the legend of Eros and Psyche at the point where the disappointed Eros is awakened and confronts the guilty Psyche.

Happy Valentine’s Day!